Social Media Says Quitting Jobs Is ‘Self‑Care.’ What Could Go Wrong?
By encouraging resignations with versions of #loveyourself, social media culture ignores social security for young people.
There’s a great disturbance in the workforce. It’s what people have come to call the “Great Resignation,” where some––particularly members of Gen Z–– are quitting their jobs in scores. A friend recently decided to leave their job after a mere two months on a whim and applied for a course abroad. Through Instagram, I found another friend who rapidly quit jobs last year. A simple Google search will reveal the extent of the trend: “The Great Resignation Is Here and No One Is Prepared,” or “The Real Reason Everyone Is Quitting Their Jobs Right Now.”
Props to you, dear ones. The cultural exhaustion, burnout, and resistance to hustle culture are evident behind these statistics and anecdotes. It takes courage to pursue one’s passion, to leave a well-paying job that disrupts mental health, or just quit without succumbing to the social norm of productivity.
The way social media romanticizes the idea of labor, it is at risk of glorifying a misleading “self-care.” The fertility of this trend is most evident. An Instagram account, with the bio “redefining success,” waxes eloquent about the thrills of quitting. The defense is convincing: quitting is an act of prioritizing yourself, which feeds into a healthy cycle of self-care and better mental health. The hashtaggable “self-care,” thus, puts the onus on young people to take care of themselves.
By encouraging the “great resignation” with versions of #loveyourself, social media culture ignores concerns of social security in young people. This is not to say people are simply quitting because of “bad influence” from social media culture, but the feedback loop is a powerful cultural force in creating a reality that may feel incoherent and disjointed for most people.
Not everyone can do it, and yet, it feels like everyone is (“feels” being the operative word here). Any ideological dome has a limited circumference. In this case, it includes people who may be free from familial responsibility, who have generational wealth/social cushion to tide through unemployment and social support from friends and family.
Beyond this social media periphery is another reality. Here are some reasons a lot of young people would stay in jobs: to pay rent, to pay for groceries, to support their families, to get the experience and skillsets they need to actually change their jobs and pad their resume. If keeping a toxic, burdensome job is a Faustian bargain they have to maintain to retain their independence and mobility and navigate gender and social oppression, it is a cost people are compelled to pay. These aren’t unheard concerns, but tangible realities. As someone on Twitter said, “Quitting a job is great but you guys don’t have to pay rent kya?”
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Quitting is seen in extremities. Either one dismisses quitting as a necessity to success and condones it (you know, the likes of “quitting is easy” or “struggle is at the heart of success”); or one accepts it for the sake of mental peace (prioritize yourself, love yourself). Where is the discourse about wanting to quit, but sticking still, for XYZ reason?
Why, then, is it easy for these narratives to fall through the social media cracks? For one, sustenance and livelihood don’t ooze glamor. The internet chases stories of success, of accomplishing things against all odds. There is no better example than the LinkedIn culture, where the tip of the dazzling iceberg “should” be enough to inspire struggling early career professionals. Most people who quit jobs rise against these odds, but the odds don’t warrant mentioning due to their low glamour appeal. On social media, no one wants to see you sweat.
It also demands an interrogation of the “self” on social media. It is no surprise that most social platforms exist as echo chambers of English-speaking, privileged caste, and class people. The algorithm favors some stories more than others; it is likely people with a higher reach and social media clout will find their posts more visible. When this “self” talks about quitting, it creates a feedback loop of sorts where quitting becomes a “culture” rather than scattered decisions. It says: Are you unsatisfied with your job? Value yourself and care for yourself — and quit.
What is the cost of this aspiration? For those who fall outside this sphere, the sense of alienation can be disempowering. “The quit-your-job advice of today has a branding problem because it’s not geared towards the average adult with financial anxiety and life responsibilities,” Declan Wilson noted in a blog. The life experiences of say, a gender non-conforming person, who has to move out of their toxic home, or someone who graduated from college in debt, is vastly different from someone who has savings or a safety cushion. The disconnect here is a wide chasm that risks engulfing those without digital visibility.
This is not to say people who stick out in ill-paying, exploitative jobs are not fighting gross capitalism. The question of who gets to quit is often ignored in the digital war against the romanticization of labor. Even the strength to rebel comes from a place of security and safety. It might be a matter of choosing the lesser of two evils. Self-care, then, involves picking personal freedom and liberty, in whatever shape and form.
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This is not a punching-down argument that just because the older generation has stuck through jobs, young people must too. It is not dismissive of mental health and the realities of a burnout crisis. It is not a pontification about “positivity” and “struggle” and the brilliance it cultivates (it doesn’t). It is not dismissive of people who have quit jobs. If someone has the means to quit, please do so.
But in this war against glorifying labor or normalizing mental health concerns, one must not forget the casualties. Every revolution comes at someone’s cost; it is imperative to know who is paying this toll.
When you romanticize quitting, you romanticize struggle and inequality. Worst case scenario? It might let capitalism off the hook too. “If we lived in a world in which we were being properly taken care of, would self-care have the same appeal?” Shayla Love asks in Vice. “Is self-care a symbol of a generation that wants to take care of itself, or does it reveal how our society has failed to take care of us?”
Perhaps, a starting point is to acknowledge privilege instead of normalizing it as the gospel truth on social media. Look at the discourse around mental health access. Telling people to “get therapy” if they have anxiety or depression or any mental health condition is often criticized for ignoring the reality of lacking resources and access. The growing awareness about this has prompted professionals to offer services for free or at lower rates, but it took a discourse opposing the progressive idea of therapy to put this wheel in motion.
“Always, ALWAYS talk about this whenever I talk about quitting jobs. I’ve been able to leave projects, turn down jobs because I haven’t had to think about paying rent,” a user writes on Twitter. “This city and the cut-throat hustle culture kills you.”
Any life should include leisure, love, and levity. But this trendy, Instagrammable solution of “self-care” is also selling an aspiration that may not even be worth buying.
Saumya Kalia is an Associate Editor at The Swaddle. Her journalism and writing explore issues of social justice, digital sub-cultures, media ecosystem, literature, and memory as they cut across socio-cultural periods. You can reach her at @Saumya_Kalia.